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Wisconsin Progressive Party

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Title: Wisconsin Progressive Party  
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Subject: List of State Treasurers of Wisconsin, Bernard J. Gehrmann, John E. Cashman, Harry Sauthoff, Gerald J. Boileau
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Wisconsin Progressive Party

The Wisconsin Progressive Party (1934–1946), was a third party which briefly held a dominant role in Wisconsin politics.[1]

The Party was the brainchild of Philip La Follette and Robert M. La Follette, Jr., the sons of the famous Wisconsin Governor and Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr.. The party was established in 1934 as an alliance between the longstanding "Progressive" faction of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, led by the La Follette family and their political allies, and certain radical farm and labor groups active in Wisconsin at the time.[2] The party served as a vehicle for Philip to run for re-election as Governor of Wisconsin and for Robert to run for re-election to the United States Senate. Both men were successful in their bids, and the party saw a number of other victories as well in the 1934 and 1936 election, notably winning several U.S. House seats and a majority of the Wisconsin State Senate and Wisconsin State Assembly in 1936. Their grip on power was short-lived, however, and they succumbed to a united Democratic and Republican front in 1938 which swept most of them out of office, including Philip. They were further crippled that year by attempting to expand the party to the national level.

Orland Steen Loomis was the last Progressive to be elected Governor of Wisconsin, in the 1942 election. He died, however, before his inauguration as governor. Robert La Follette Jr. held on to his Senate seat until 1946 when the La Follettes decided to disband the party, and to run Robert for re-election as a Republican rather than a Progressive. He was defeated in the Republican primary for the 1946 Senate elections, by Joe McCarthy.

During its heyday the Progressive Party usually did not run candidates in unemployment compensation and how to fund it argued for the Socialist bill and against the Progressive substitute, stating that a Progressive was "a Socialist with the brains knocked out"[3]), when both faced opposition from the conservative major parties. During the period from 1939 on, the Progressives and the Socialists of Milwaukee sometimes made common cause in a Farmer-Labor-Progressive Federation, with Socialist legislators caucusing with the minority Progressives. In 1942, Socialist Frank P. Zeidler, later to be elected Mayor of Milwaukee, was the nominee on the Progressive party line for State Treasurer of Wisconsin.

The last politician to hold office from the Wisconsin Progressive Party nationally was Merlin Hull, a U.S. Representative from Wisconsin, elected as a Progressive in 1944. (Hull continued to be re-elected on the Republican ticket, and served until his death in 1953.)

Officeholders from the Wisconsin Progressive Party

Federal office

State office


  1. ^ On This Day in Wisconsin History; On This Day: May 19 Wisconsin Historical Society
  2. ^ Wisconsin Progressive Party The Historical Marker Database
  3. ^ Kaveny, Edward T. "$10,000,000 Tax: Assembly Passes Compromise Bill by 73 to 15 Vote" Milwaukee Sentinel January 6, 1932; p. 1, cols. 7-8


  • Beck, Elmer A. The Sewer Socialists: A History of the Socialist Party of Wisconsin, 1897–1940. Fennimore, WI: Westburg Associates, 1982.
  • Glad, Paul W. The History of Wisconsin, Volume V: War, A New Era, and Depression, 1914–1940. Edited by William F. Thompson. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1990.
  • "Progressive Party, Wisconsin." Encyclopedia of American History. Answers Corporation, 2006. 26 February 2009.
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